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Harris v. Hill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

June 29, 2018

JIM HARRIS, Plaintiff,
NINA HILL, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Jim Harris filed this lawsuit pro se against prison nurse practitioner defendant Nina Hill. Defendant Hill moved for summary judgment (#72). Plaintiff filed a response memorandum (#82) and a response to Hill's statement of facts (#83) followed by a “Motion to Allow Doc. #83 and #82 to Remain As Submitted to this Court” (#87). Defendant filed a reply memorandum in support of summary judgment (#88). Plaintiff then filed a surreply (#89). Defendant filed a motion to strike (#90) the surreply. Plaintiff did not respond to defendant's motion to strike.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff entered the Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”)'s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (“ERDCC”) on July 13, 2012. Nonparty Advanced Nurse Practitioner Duhadway[1] assigned plaintiff to “M-2 Status, ” which required that plaintiff be assigned to a location where he could have 16-hour nursing staff. Level M-1 status would have indicated plaintiff had no treatment needs. Duhadway appears to have assigned plaintiff a “lay-in” or medical restriction to the use of a lower bunk. Notably, the “Lay-In/Restriction History” report shows the lower bunk restriction with a “Begin Date” of July 20, 2012 (just after plaintiff entered ERDCC) and an “End Date” six months later on January 20, 2013.[2] The report also includes a column for “Discontinue Date, ” which is marked 00/00/0000 for the lower bunk restriction. For reasons that are not entirely clear, MDOC assigned plaintiff to a custody duty status of “Cardiac History - Lower Bunk.” Although the medical lay-in for lower bunch expired on January 20, 2013, it appears that MDOC --- which is an entity separate from the individuals and the company that provide health services to inmates --- continued to include “Cardiac History - Lower Bunk” as plaintiff's “custody status.” That custody status cannot be changed by medical personnel.

         Plaintiff has a number of health problems. He was seen periodically in the Chronic Pain Care Clinic for knee and hip arthritis (plaintiff disagrees that he is still being treated for those ailments). He has an old gunshot wound that plaintiff says resulted in some hand weakness. Although plaintiff suggested in his complaint that the gunshot resulted in a spinal cord injury, there is no record evidence to support that allegation. Further, although one doctor noted some wasting in the thumb-web of plaintiff's right hand, plaintiff has not been diagnosed with thumb weakness. Plaintiff was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease on January 22, 2013 and was ordered for no prolonged standing or running. Plaintiff also had a non-union of a fracture in his jaw which affected his eating, so non-party Nurse Practitioner Graham renewed lay-ins on May 21, 2015 for “extra time to eat, early main line, [and] no peanut butter.” On June 15, 2015, plaintiff saw defendant Nurse Practitioner Hill as a followup to the May 21 appointment. Plaintiff reported that the medications were helping and his pain had “lessened significantly.” Thus, on June 18, Hill sent an order recorded by nonparty Nurse Lizenbee to discontinue the lay-in for “early mainline, no peanut butter and for extra time to eat.”

         That lay-in is recorded on the Lay-In/Restriction History report. Its Begin Date is May 21, 2015 and its End Date is a year later, May 21, 2016. The “Discontinue Date” is June 18, 2015, which comports with the medical records that show that the lay-in was discontinued by defendant Hill.

         On November 2, 2015, plaintiff complained to nonparty Dr. Massey that his bottom bunk lay-in had been taken away. A few days later, plaintiff says he fell from his bunk and injured himself such that he was unable to walk. He was treated for his complaints by Hill and by other nonparty medical staff.

         Plaintiff's work history with the prison shows that he has worked as a gardener at SECC starting in June 2014. By November, he had worked 99 hours in that position. By July 2015, plaintiff had worked an additional 120 hours. Plaintiff adds that he was a supervisor and “only instructed guys on their labor” in that role.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on April 15, 2016. He claims that defendant Hill violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when she cancelled his bottom bunk lay-in. Because plaintiff filed the lawsuit in forma pauperis, this Court reviewed the complaint for frivolity under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Although the plaintiff had three “strikes” under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) because he had filed three frivolous suits in the past, the Court found that plaintiff had shown that he was in “imminent risk of serious physical harm” and concluded that granting in forma pauperis status was appropriate. (#9 at 1 n.1.) Notably, the Court based that decision on plaintiff's allegations that his bottom bunk lay-in had been cancelled despite his “handicap, ” which was due to “a gunshot injury to his cervical spine, nerve damage, and muscle loss.” (Id. at 2.) As indicated above, it appears that the gunshot wound did not cause damage to his spine.

         Defendant Hill has moved for summary judgment.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Pursuant to Rule 56(c), a district court may grant a motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that “there is no genuine issue as to material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962). The burden is on the moving party. Mt. Pleasant, 838 F.2d at 273. After the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than show that there is some doubt as to the facts. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the nonmoving party bears the burden of setting forth specific facts showing that there is sufficient evidence in its favor to allow a jury to return a verdict for it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must review the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Buller v. Buechler, 706 F.2d 844, 846 (8th Cir. 1983). The Court is required to resolve all conflicts of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Robert Johnson Grain Co. v. Chem. Interchange Co., 541 F.2d 207, 210 (8th Cir. 1976). However, the nonmoving party's allegations must be supported by sufficient probative evidence that would permit a finding in his favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy. Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Gregory v. City of Rogers, 974 F.2d 1006, 1010 (8th Cir. 1992)).

         Plaintiff claims defendant Hill violated his Eighth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. To establish a such a violation under these circumstances, plaintiff must show defendant was deliberately indifferent to the plaintiff's serious medical needs. Vaughn v. Gray, 557 F.3d 904, 908 (8th Cir. 2009). “Deliberate indifference has both an objective and a subjective component.” Butler v. Fletcher, 465 F.3d 340, 345 (8th Cir. 2006). The objective component requires a plaintiff to demonstrate an objectively serious medical need. Grayson v. Ross, 454 F.3d 802, 808-09 (8th Cir. 2006). A “serious medical need” is one “that has been diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay ...

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